Tuesday, January 5, 2010

The Politico: Five things to watch at terror meet - Josh Gerstein and Carol E. Lee - POLITICO.com

Five things to watch at terror meet

Hit for being too slow and diffident in his initial response to the Christmas Day terror plot, President Barack Obama is hoping for a do-over Tuesday – summoning his security chiefs to the White House to explain what went wrong.

The session in the Situation Room is Obama’s first chance to go face-to-face with those responsible for securing the nation, and a big opportunity to set the tone and tempo for the government’s response to the terror plot against Northwest Flight 253.

The White House is giving no sign Obama will ask anyone to take the fall for intelligence and security failures that led to the near-disaster. But the White House is trying to project an air of decisive action by the president, on an issue where the stakes couldn’t be higher.

“This calls for a really hard look,” Georgetown University professor Bruce Hoffman said. “Not putting in place measures to prevent the recurrence—the failure to do that is political suicide….I’m not sure that kind of threshold would have applied after the 9/11 attacks, but it would now.”

Here are five things to watch for around Tuesday’s meeting:

1. Do heads roll?

Obama already tried to recover from his first response, a somewhat tepid statement three days after the attack, with stern comments last Tuesday in which he blasted the U.S. government’s failure to head off the terrorist attack as “totally unacceptable.” He made it sound like careers were on the line, saying he would insist on “accountability at every level.”

To be sure, there was a pre-emptive element to Obama’s comments. He was trying to make sure even his most strident critics didn’t sound more angry about any breaches than he was.

Some pressed for the dismissal of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano for seeming to minimize the failures in her first interviews, when she suggested “the system worked.” However, Obama and other officials have since gone out of their way to praise her.

An oddly timed statement Saturday from the head of the National Counterterrorism Center, Michael Leiter, had intelligence types wondering if he was about to go.

Now, some 10 days after the attempted bombing, insiders are increasingly doubtful that Obama will sack anyone.

In appearances on the Sunday talk shows, Obama counterterrorism adviser John Brennan dodged questions about firings. “What the president wants to do is to make sure that we're able to take the corrective steps necessary to prevent this from happening again. But he needs to hold everybody accountable, including me,” Brennan said on NBC’s “Meet The Press.”

Given that Brennan is leading the White House’s review and will make a presentation at Tuesday’s meeting, many intelligence and homeland security watchers took that comment as a sign that, in this instance, holding people accountable would not mean dismissals.

The deaths of seven CIA officers last week and the sagging morale over torture investigations make it unlikely that Obama would turn to Langley to set an example.

A White House official said Obama will use his remarks Tuesday to outline the reviews' "findings and an initial series of reforms to improve our watch-listing system as well as our ability to thwart future attempts to carry out terrorist attacks." FBI Director Robert Mueller will update him on the terror investigation, and Attorney General Eric Holder will update him on the prosecution of the suspect.

2. Will it be Dr. Obama or Mr. Hyde?

The president’s uneven reaction to the attempted Christmas Day attack – from three days of silence to a tempered statement to visible anger – raises the question of which Obama will show up when he speaks publicly after Tuesday’s meeting.

Will it be the measured Obama who in his first remarks on the incident said he was “closely monitoring” the situation? That Obama can seem aloof, an approach supporters say reflects his fact-based approach to problem-solving but might not reflect the anger many Americans feel toward a planned terror attack that could have cost the lives of more than 200 people on a U.S. airliner.

Or will the president step it up and deliver more sternly worded remarks as he did last Tuesday?

Read more: http://www.politico.com/news/stories/0110/31156.html#ixzz0bjlPH8Sa

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Five things to watch at terror meet - Josh Gerstein and Carol E. Lee - POLITICO.com

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